Author Archives: Clare Creighton

What Parenting Brings to the Table

by Clare Creighton

I’ve been a parent for six years now (longer if I count pet-parenting), almost as long as I’ve been in my current role at OSU. In some instances, the two roles feel at odds with each other as I experience a tension between working and being available to my kids. Certainly the 18 months of working from home blurred those lines considerably for me. But recently I’ve been trying to draw my roles as a parent and as a professional together in conversation. My orientation to listening and helping has changed as I consider how I relate to my very independent three-year old. She helps me see that I am quick to jump in and “help,” and most of the time that’s not what she wanted or asked for. It’s made me pause and clarify, “Do you want help?” and “What do you want that help to look like?” – a move that I am trying to flex more in other spaces as I check in with others about if and how they want me to engage.

I’ve asked a few colleagues to join me in thinking about how lessons learned from parenting impact who we are and how we approach our work.

Raina Martinez (Educational Opportunities Program)

“I have been a parent for 15 years now and one thing I have learned about being a parent that I can translate to my work counseling students is adapted from Maria Montessori, an educator from the turn of the 19th Century. Each experience is a time to learn. Not all experiences are going to be awesome or causes for celebration, quite the opposite, but we take away from these experiences learning, understanding and, hopefully, sometimes, grace, forgiveness and empathy. I can’t and shouldn’t stand in the way of experiences, lessons or progress; nor should I insert myself in any of these. Rather, I need to stand aside, guide and point out blocks along the way; but I must let them drive.”

Gabs James (College of Science)

“My kids inspired my master’s degree research, which is about celebrating gender expansiveness. Through supporting their gender journeys and discovering my own, I have brought these insights with me to the work I do with undergrads. We are all on a journey. Sometimes those journeys intersect, sometimes they need support, or encouragement to a roadside attraction. What’s been rad about parenting while being a graduate student and full-time student services professional has been the realization that we are co-creators of these journeys, not the architects of them. So, in a sense being a parent informs my work, and being a practitioner informs my parenting.”

Anne-Marie Deitering (OSU Libraries & Press)

“We became parents by adoption – one day everything was hypothetical and the next day we were parenting an almost-teenager.  Now, the stereotypical narrative around parenting new teenagers is that parents go from the person with all of the answers to the person who just doesn’t get it. Of course, stereotypes can’t capture the whole of any experience (even when they contain some truth) and for our family, this one really didn’t. Adopting an older child means parenting someone who might not trust you enough to be honest with you. It can take a while before they will express themselves when they are worried or afraid, and it can take even longer for them to feel safe enough to full-on disagree with you. That lesson — that trust needs to be earned and that negative feedback based on trust is a gift – helps me every day in my work as a teacher, as a mentor and as a manager.”

Teresita Alvarez-Cortez (Office of Institutional Diversity)

“My daughter has helped me understand so much of the operating knowledge I take for granted. She often asks what things mean or why something happens the way it does. Most things I assume as common knowledge, like the fact you have to actually pay for the cool toy you want and not just walk out of a store 😊 But some knowledge is more subtle, like the fact that we need to take turns talking in a conversation. These are norms and expectations that are not always clearly “taught.” I think about this a lot when I am working with teams, especially as I help onboard new employees to a team. I ask myself: “What are the norms or expectations of our work environment that are unspoken or unclear?” Then, I try my best to be clear with my colleagues about how those cultural norms operate so they are able to successfully navigate our work environment.”

Conclusion

As a final note, I want to celebrate that knowledge can move in both directions. These roles in our lives are mutually complementary – growth in one area supports growth in another. It invites the question: what assets do parents bring to the work place? What assets do student parents bring to campus?

The First Five Minutes

by Clare Creighton

It’s been about two years since the first time I was in a large group meeting and someone led a grounding activity. We turned off our Zoom cameras and one of the facilitators led us in a breathing exercise. I didn’t get the point.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with the opening minutes of meetings. For a while, the culture of the organization I was in was openly anti-ice-breaker. Those corny activities felt silly and lacked value when compared to the overflowing agenda of “business” items. And yet, I know there is value in a purposeful approach to how we start meetings. In the last year and a half, I’ve finally done the work of better understanding how different moves impact the meeting space. In contrast to strategies suggested by many of the business articles on the internet, the techniques I share below don’t offer you greater efficiency or a chance to get through your ambitious agenda faster. But for me they offer some valuable trade-offs. I don’t claim to be an expert here, so I’ve drawn on the perspectives of colleagues to help share about a few different ways to begin meetings.

Grounding Activities

A grounding activity is one that helps participants in the meeting to situate themselves in the space and to become more mentally and physically present. We move between meetings and activities at a rapid pace, so grounding can help us make that transition mentally. Nicole Hindes, Director of the Human Services Resources Center, helps us understand why grounding activities can be effective: “starting a meeting with a grounding is helpful for me because it reminds me that I’m a body, that we all have bodies. Much as I’d love to quick-transition between meetings and conversations with others, the reality is that I’m affected by each person I talk with. Sometimes I walk into a meeting or conversation and [may] still be carrying a heaviness or tension (or other energy) that hasn’t dissipated from my body from the conversation space immediately before. Taking the time to ground (and offering the same time and space to others) can help everyone find the attention and inner-resourcing that feels right for the people in front of us. Working in academia, where the cartesian-split prizes my mind over my body, means that I’m regularly fighting pressure to ignore my feelings and my body. A grounding reconnects me to the wisdom available to me in my body and slows me down enough to get curious about the wisdom in other’s bodies too.”

Check-ins

For a check-in, each person in the meeting shares what is “up” for them. For large meetings, this might happen in pairs or small groups. These check-ins don’t require a prompt, just an invitation to share what you are comfortable sharing about how you’re doing in or out of work. Colleague Emily Bowling, Director of Community Engagement & Leadership, offers these example prompts: “What do you want to share with others that you’re bringing in today? How are you arriving into the space today? What’s on your mind/heart as you enter our meeting today?” She describes the value of these check-ins: “I find starting staff meetings with an opportunity for each staff member to check-in is a valuable way to ensure we are relationally connecting and creating space to understand what is on the heart and minds of our colleagues – to know what they are carrying with them in that moment.” For me, the value of these check-ins clicked the other day as someone offered up the connection between how they were doing and how they might show up in the meeting. It makes sense that we carry into a meeting what is on our minds and in our hearts and bodies. Naming that for others might help them understand the way you show up in a meeting.

Ice-Breakers

Ice-breakers are prompts or activities that warm-up the conversation and bring up the energy level in a room. Examples include prompts that ask folks to share or weigh in on a topic (e.g., “what’s the best flavor of Girl Scout Cookie?” or “share one of your office pet peeves”). There are a lot of tools to do this, but offering a simple prompt for folks to respond to can be a way to get to know colleagues in a light-hearted way. More time-intensive activities like the sentence picture game or the 30 circles activity can spark creativity and energy for the rest of that meeting. Challenge Course Coordinator & Instructor Mark Belson describes it as “connection before content:” “connect[ing] and shar[ing] random bits of innocuous information with each other helps participants to feel a sense of collaboration while also getting to know more about each other and our group. These often times simple and brief moments allow us to have our voice heard and also to hear the voices of others. And if we can also share in laugh or a feeling of connectedness, then all the better.”

Open-Ended

Anna Bentley, Administrative Program Assistant for the ASC&WC, calls this the “aimless opener:” deliberate and intentional space left for a conversation that meanders where the group wants to go, leaving open-ended space for relationship building, conversation, and sharing. Anna says, “Have you ever gone to a meeting early and started chatting with other folks in the room while waiting for everyone to arrive? It’s easy to get into a deep discussion that takes up the first few minutes of a meeting. The facilitator can create space for organic conversation to unfold so colleagues can build relationships. There’s no end goal, pre-determined conversation topic, or requirement to participate. Aimless openers aren’t structured and often aren’t planned, but that doesn’t mean it is time wasted. They can still be incredibly valuable moments for teams to build connections.” For me, this is an intriguing possibility – leaving time in the meeting turns over the conversational space to the group to use in a way that meets their needs. It’s worth noting as well that for those more accustomed to a traditional meeting agenda, they might wonder why the “meeting” hasn’t started. This technique and the other strategies can benefit from transparency – it can be helpful for meeting participants to know how the opening minutes of a meeting are going to be structured and what they might get out of that time together.

I hope these insights into ways to start meetings prompt your thinking around the types of spaces you can create in meetings you facilitate. You can explore additional activity ideas with the resources below. Also, please feel free reply if you have other meeting strategies or ideas you think facilitators would benefit from.

Resources

Why Check-ins Should Be Part of Your Team Meeting Culture

Back-to-School Icebreakers Are Awkward, But They Work — Science of Us

Free Resources and Handouts – Training Wheels

Playmeo – Search 490+ Fun Interactive Group Games

Examples of Grounding Activities

How We’re Responding to the Increase in COVID-19 Cases

by Clare Creighton

On January 6th, the ASC & Writing Center team held our first staff meeting of the term. While we remain open for in-person services, we also anticipate spending time assisting student staff in navigating decisions and changes to their work in response to the surge of COVID-19 cases. We spent some time identifying strategies as we looked ahead at the next few weeks, and here are a dozen ideas we came up with. While they may not be applicable to all scenarios, we share them in case they might be of some use to others, and we invite you to add to our list in the comments.

Things we can do as a team over next few weeks:

  1. Increase the availability of remote/online service delivery as we may see greater utilization rates of online modalities—out of necessity or out of caution—during the next few weeks.
  2. Provide a refresher on how to use Zoom and Teams, and how to offer services via Zoom as some staff might be out of practice. Doing this proactively can prepare us for shifts to Zoom and Teams that might happen as student staff isolate or quarantine when needed.
  3. Prepare email templates for responding to affected employees, contacts and other related needs. The university templates are a great starting point, and we’ll add the nuances of our programs and spaces (including who to notify) to have them ready to use. We’ll also share examples of different emails amongst our team to lighten the drafting load.
  4. Order additional KN95 masks to offer to student staff who are working in front line positions. [Note: masks with higher filtration are now available across OSU campuses at multiple sites and through OSU Surplus Property]
  5. Ensure cross-training where possible and prepare to work with lower staffing levels when needed; document protocols and logistics allowing folks to cover when others need to be out.
  6. Prepare signage that communicates any disruption to services or availability.
  7. Use staff meeting time or email to clarify the new isolation and quarantine guidance and encourage students to reach out for help navigating confusion or uncertainty.
  8. Check-in with folks and create time for being in conversation. Share how we’re doing and normalize time for talking about how we’re feeling about what what’s going on, and what we’re experiencing.
  9. Acknowledge that comfort levels are individual. Provide flexibility where we can, allowing folks to err on the side of caution if that helps reduce anxiety and stress.
  10. Adjust our schedules to increase capacity for in-the-moment responsiveness: being mindful of new things we’re committing to, saying “no” or deferring deadlines if needed.
  11. Distribute work that has emotional weight to it: notifying about exposures, asking folks to wear masks, etc. These tasks can be exhausting.
  12. Encourage intentional planning for evening and weekend activities to lower stress, recuperate from decision-making, and prevent burnout.

Grappling with the Complexities of Supporting Students

by Clare Creighton

Last term, over four thousand Corvallis-based students responded to the Fall 2021 survey designed to help us better understand their experience and needs during this transition back to primarily in-person modalities. The results are available for OSU faculty and staff through a Box folder, and can be requested by emailing Clare Creighton, Maureen Cochran, or Erin Bird.

While I hope folks explore the rich data students have provided, I’d like to use this space to share insights I gained from reading student responses. I had the honor of reviewing open-ended survey comments from a few of the survey questions—over one hundred thousand words from students.

Student responses helped me understand that if it feels like a complicated and challenging time, it’s because it is. Throughout the pandemic, anticipating and making decisions has felt difficult. Part of that is because students have a range of needs and desires:

  • Some students feel more comfortable accessing resources in person, some prefer remote.
  • Students want more information but feel overwhelmed by the emails.
  • Students want courses offered in a range of modalities but have varied perspectives about which courses are a good fit for each modality.
  • Some students want to see more enforcement of masking requirements and COVID-19 protocols, others want masking requirements to be reduced or eliminated.

I don’t paint this picture with the intention of implying that the student body as a whole are a fickle group – quite the opposite. We have students who are clear on their needs and comfortable sharing them. The challenges come when those opinions and needs diverge. The puzzle we have is how best to meet those needs. Here are a few ways the Academic Success Center & Writing Center is working to support students:

  • Offering multiple modalities of services not just because of COVID, but because offering choice to students better meets student needs and preferences. For example, students can access writing support through drop-in in-person consultations in the Studio, they can schedule Zoom consultations, and they can submit writing for written feedback via email.
  • Creating some transparency for students about the resources, expectations, and guidelines. It can be confusing and discouraging to not understand why things are being done the way they are. Winter term may bring some irregularities in our staffing and services, and greater transparency will help students understand what is available and what they’re experiencing.
  • Encouraging compliance with COVID guidelines and holding compassion for those are struggling because they’re anxious about getting ill or fatigued with the rules and want things to be “back to normal.” There are students visiting our spaces who are not wearing masks – while we can acknowledge the frustration many feel in the need to wear masks, encouraging compliance will help other students feel comfortable to stay, learn, and ask questions.
  • Acknowledging student perspectives. Students have great ideas – we’ve learned a lot about their needs through these surveys. Similar efforts are happening across the US as higher ed seeks to understand the perspectives of students during this unusual time. We can highlight for students in small and big groups that we count on their ideas and perspectives to shape our work.

The students who completed the survey this fall gave us some great insights into their needs. I am inspired to do what I can to make full use of that gift. And it’s helpful to keep in mind that even the observations above are generalizations. We are best able to meet student needs when we engage with them as individuals wherever possible.

Student Staff Picks – Strategies for Motivation

Please visit this document for an accessible version of this article.

As we look to the final weeks of the term, we checked in with our student staff about motivation. We know stress levels, fatigue, and burnout can play a factor any term, but this term in particular has engaged our energy and time differently than the previous 18 months. Here’s what student staff offered as techniques they use to stay motivated. Perhaps these are useful for the students you support, or perhaps there’s an idea in here that resonates for you as well. Click the visual below to see the full-size image with responses.

Sunrise over a mountain with circles that include quotes within them

Unpacking Two Current OSU “Scale-Up” Efforts

by Clare Creighton

The topic of “scaling up” has been prominent on the higher education landscape the past few years. Scaling up refers to the act of taking a program, interaction, or idea that is working on a small-scale, or in one area, and increasing the scope of that work, in many cases to serve more students. One of the values of scaling-up existing innovations is that you’re building upon the programs that have already seen successes, rather than inventing new programs that may be unproven. Yet presumably, there are challenges and growing pains to scaling up as well. This summer I had a chance to connect with Dr. Kim McAloney, Assistant Director of Engagement in the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP), and Chris Gasser, Coordinator of the Supplemental Instruction (SI) program in the Academic Success Center, about scale-up efforts they’re leading in their departments.

Clare: Let’s start with some context. Would you each share a bit about the program you’re scaling up and the size of the scale-up you’re working on?

Kim: The EOP Bridge is an extended orientation program that brings EOP-eligible students to campus prior to the start of fall term. Students arrive six days early and engage in a range of activities designed to build community and prepare for the transition to OSU. We’re scaling up from 40 students in Fall 2019 to 100-150 students this fall.

Chris: SI offers academic collaborative study tables for traditionally challenging courses at OSU. This year, we’re more than doubling in size and the number of courses supported. We’re going from roughly 11 courses to 23 courses, and from 16 SI Leaders last spring to 36 SI Leaders this fall, and a full-time assistant coordinator.

Clare: From your experience this summer, what is making this scale-up possible? What is it about your existing programs that makes the scale-up work?

Kim: Understanding our history, where we’ve been, and being able to draw on that knowledge. We know what we do, we know that what we do works, and we’re solid with that. We believe in ourselves, we believe in the work, we believe in the relationships that we’ve built, we believe in the pieces in our programs. This isn’t the first time we’ve done some of these things– we’ve done pieces of this before, we’ve learned and we’re able to carry that with us. I know these things worked and these things didn’t work and we’re able to lean into that.

Chris: Having a strong foundation in the existing program is essential. There have been a number of moments where I have had to say “I have to move forward with this, I have to trust in what’s there and know that we’re prepared for it, even if on paper it’s not as clean as I want it or had initially hoped.” The blueprint I have for this scale-up is in the solid foundation and the history of the program. I think that plays a tremendous role.

Clare: It sounds like you both are building off of strong programmatic foundations. What was needed that was new? What else did you discover was necessary that maybe wasn’t in place previously?

Chris: With the SI scale-up the logistics are only half of it: do we have the people to lead the tables, where will the tables be held, etc. Those are the pieces we often think of in a scale-up. The other element is the relationship building – building relationship with new SI faculty — folks who have never heard of the program, don’t know if it works. The same is true for students. SI relies on institutional memory. Students are more likely to sign up when they hear “yes, this is valuable, this is worth your time” about SI from peers and faculty, and it takes time to build that awareness for new courses.

Kim: With the bridge program there are so many more people involved in the layers: students, peer mentors, academic counselors, campus partners, and community vendors. The program is growing three times its size of students and this is a program that works because of small group dynamics and relationship building. You can’t just make the groups bigger. You have to keep the part of the program that builds relationships. Taking the structure pieces and thinking creatively about how to maintain the relationship building and our goals at this larger size. In this case, we use small cohorts to maintain that small-program feel.

Clare: What kinds of things have you learned that you would pass along to others who are considering scale-up efforts?

Chris: It’s not as easy as it seems on paper. There is newness to this. It’s a program I’ve known for a long time but I have been surprised by some new challenges and new places I have had to innovate. I think it’s important to not be too attached to how you’ve done things before because you don’t see new ways of doing things. Leave yourself enough time to innovate, to make changes. Leave yourself enough time to account for that. And construct a good team – that makes a world of difference.

Kim: I think about creativity and innovation, successes and failures. In moving forward with something new, there is some trial and error there. We’re in it for the long haul – we need to be able to adapt and change and continue to hone as we go on learning not just from our past but learning from our current as well. We want to be able to be adaptable to our current students and current context as well. It was helpful for me to engage with thought partners to help me hold onto the purpose of the program while also engage in the creativity, innovation, and adaptability that allowed me to dream and then execute.

Clare: Thank you both for your time today. I appreciate the perspectives you’ve shared with campus and best wishes for the rest of the term!

Highlights from the 2021 Transitions Survey

by Clare Creighton

In February of 2021, the Office of Undergraduate Education launched the Transitions Survey to learn from first-year OSU students and provide insights about the undergraduate student transition experience specific to the Corvallis Campus. The invitation to participate was extended to all first-year students (first-year freshman and first year transfer students) who had matriculated during summer or fall 2020. Of the 4941 students invited, 22.5% answered at least two questions on the survey.

Recently, I had an opportunity to review results from several of the survey’s academic-related questions. While Erin Bird (Transfer Transitions Coordinator) and Megan and Danielle (URSA interns working on this project) are by far the experts on this survey and the analysis, I’d like to reflect on a few of the areas I found intriguing and share ideas for using those insights in our work.

First-year students emphasized academic goals.

Visual listing percentages of responses from 1113 students. 91% Enrolling in my courses. 91% Earning the grades I want. 88% Learning in my courses. 79% Making friends. 53% Physical activity routine.I’ve long been curious about goals that first year students identify for themselves. Question 2 of this survey asked respondents, “During your first few terms enrolled at Oregon State, what were you hoping to accomplish? (Please select all that apply).” Of the 16 options provided, the responses selected by the highest percentage of respondents were “Enrolling in the courses I want,” “Earning the grades I want,” and “Learning in my courses.”

I was surprised by the emphasis on academic goals, as I expected some co-curricular and social engagement goals to factor in as highest priorities as well. As a caveat: learning and earning grades are deeply connected to a student’s social network, sense of belonging, mental health, and support systems and these results don’t undermine those connections. I’m excited that these results offer us a chance to frame ongoing orientation experiences (first-year courses, fall term events) around students’ self-identified priorities. If students name learning, grades, and course access as top priorities, we have an entry point to frame resources and information in service to those goals. If we audit our own orientation and transition support, how often do these topics come up? Are they clearly addressed and visible to students?

Information about motivation, time management, academic support, and advising was identified as key to success.

Visual showing survey responses from 1109 students. 68% Motivation, time management. 64% Academic Support Services. 64% Academic Advising. 55% Costs associated with OSU. 49% Emotional support.Knowing what kind of help is available and how to access it is, in my opinion, a key component of student success. Question 4 of the survey asks students to identify “which of the following types of information are most important to your success at Oregon State. Please select all that apply.” Motivation and time management was the top response, followed by Academic Support Services and Academic Advising. These responses make sense given students’ earlier responses. Motivation and time management seem directly related to academic goals—particularly for students transitioning from a semester system to a quarter system, and especially during remote learning.

At the Academic Success Center, we often field questions about time management tools, breaking down assignments, scheduling exam prep, and more. Perhaps we can work as a campus to make these topics more visible and integrated within conversations, first year courses, advising, and other transition experiences. Students also indicated that they valued information about Academic Support Services and Academic Advising. To me, this calls for more reflection. What type of information do students need to access services? What information is important for them? What services are available? I believe students’ responses to the resource awareness questions can help us begin to answer these questions.

Increased awareness and more information may expand resource utilization.

Respondents were asked to identify categories of services they had used. Those who selected “yes” to having used Academic Services & Offices were asked what made them want to use the service again.  Those who selected “no” they hadn’t used Academic Services & Offices were asked what held them back from using those services. About one third of students who answered this question indicated they “wanted to use it but did not know what to say or how to get started;” a third said they were “intimidated to go by myself;” and 40% said “I did not know how to access the office/service in a remote setting.”

I find these results compelling because I believe they indicate barriers we can address with orientation and way-finding support. Many of us share information about resources, but often this resource exists, and this is its name. These results suggest we could better aid students by clarifying how to access resources, what to expect when they arrive, and how to get started. If we have time and capacity in our conversations, we could more intentionally invite discussion around concerns and barriers, answer questions, and help students develop plans for accessing resources.

Where to next?

I find myself curious to know the degree to which these trends were unique to the remote delivery of classes in fall and winter or if we will see similar patterns when classes are in-person. Lucky for us, Erin will be running this survey each year, and we’ll have more context for how students’ transition to OSU was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and which trends and patterns are more enduring.

If you have additional questions or are interested in more of the findings from the Transition Survey, I encourage you to reach out to Erin Bird (Erin.Bird@oregonstate.ed). The email invitation as well as the questions from the survey itself are available at this link: https://beav.es/Jb7 (Box login required).

Reflection from Different Angles

by Clare Creighton & Marjorie Coffey

Many of us are already looking ahead to when we’ll shift from fully remote operations to more in-person work. One of our values in the Academic Success Center & Writing Center has been approaching this work intentionally and with awareness of how the decisions we make impact our student staff, professional staff, students using services, and campus partners. As part of our planning process, we’ve engaged in few activities and thought exercises that we want to share in the event these might support your own planning.

Naming and Revisiting Values

Prior to fall 2020, we engaged in an exercise to plan for remote service delivery. As a group, we named our values as they related to supporting students and staff during times of remote work. As we anticipate a return to campus in the future, we now are returning to that document for reference. While many things are still up in the air and our process will be guided by university and public health guidance, we also are mindful of how our values can shape our individual, team, and programmatic decision-making process. Having those named values as reference points helps us ensure that when we do begin to transition from remote work, we are centering support for students and for each other in that process.

Reflecting & Designing Intentionally

March and April have provided a valuable liminal space where we lack the detailed information needed to start planning fall logistics, but we have experienced enough remote operations to begin to reflect on the year. We want to be intentional in our return to campus and move forward deliberately in our practice rather than defaulting to what we’ve done previously. We’ve dedicated time to unpacking experiences and learning from the past year and to looking at a return to campus from a few angles: What have we noticed this past year? What did we learn? What did we like and want to continue? We’ve asked these questions about our individual experiences as well was our program and service delivery. Creating space and time for these conversations and committing to action based on learning is helping us design a more intentional process.

Using Equity Framework Tools

We’re not the first to see an opportunity in the current moment—an opportunity not just to reflect on the past year and acknowledge lessons learned, but to critically examine our assumptions and our approach to work. Using Creative Reaction Lab’s “Equity Centered Community Design,” the Center for Racial Justice Innovation’s “Racial Equity Impact Assessmentv,” and ProInspire’s “Crisis as a Catalyst,” we have been working through a series of prompts as a team to think about the path forward. These tools help us shed light on barriers and inequities in how we do our work, which is particularly useful in higher ed where historical structures, systems, and assumptions are prevalent.

One important element of this process has been building awareness and humility in the limitation of our knowledge by asking questions like how might my own experience create gaps in my understanding of what others experienced/need? Getting in touch with our own experience and limitations then prompts us to think about who we can invite into the conversation to gain perspectives and insights. We’re asking questions like whose voices and perspectives are missing from our meaning-making? What do we still need to learn or answer about the past year and the path forward?

We’re still in the process of reflecting and gathering input from others, and our hope is that by the time we have completed that process, we will have greater clarity about the parameters that will guide our fall planning. Creating space now for this type of contemplation prepares us to braid together the reality of what is possible logistically with a renewed and intentional vision of what will best serve students.

Embedding Learning Strategies in Your Course

by Clare Creighton

In my 12 years at the Academic Success Center (ASC), I’ve enjoyed teaching dozens of sections of ALS 116: Academic Success. This course helps students develop skills and strategies for success in college-level learning environments. The course includes topics like time management, metacognition, and effective study strategies—all topics that students apply to courses they’re taking.

ALS 116 is an absolute delight to teach, but my favorite approach to teaching learning strategies is embedding strategies into the context of a specific course. In fact, I would argue that every course has the opportunity to help students make connections between learning strategies and what it means to be successful in that particular course or discipline.

With 5-10 minutes here or there early in the term, instructors can help students identify and apply strategies to support their success throughout the term. This is an easy way to help flatten the learning curve around college expectations and create an on-ramp for what is already a rapid 10-week term.

How to Get Started

One entry point for embedding learning strategies would be to ask yourself, “What learning strategies and skills would help students be successful in my course?” You could then follow that up with, “Where in my course do students learn those strategies and skills?”

Another entry point could be to review the list of strategies below and consider which activities might be relevant to students in your course.

Model Reading Strategies

Reading is used differently across courses, and students may not know how approach reading differently for each course. You can help by naming the role reading plays in your course. Does it precede lecture? Exist primarily as a reference? Support homework or exam prep? During the first week of the term, talking through how readings are used in your course and explaining and modeling reading strategies can make reading more manageable and effective for students.

Plan Out Long-Term Projects

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a long-term project. Students who haven’t had a chance to build project management skills may benefit from learning about a tool like the backwards planning worksheet.  Working together to apply this tool to a project gives students the opportunity to practice organizational skills like breaking a large task into smaller tasks and scheduling work over time.

Support Note-Taking for Online Lectures

We’ve heard from students that note-taking for a live online lecture or a video is different from previous approaches. We also know that there are many note-taking variations. Follow an early lecture with discussion. Ask about note-taking approaches and main points folks captured in notes. Share an example of how you (or a TA) took notes on the same content. Invite students to upload their notes and try different note-taking approaches based on the content and format of your lectures.

Make Study Groups a Lighter Lift

Students are looking for connection and community and ways to replace their typical in-person study groups. Talk about how remote study groups might work in your course and encourage use of tools to get started.

Encourage Test-Prep Strategies

Like reading, test prep looks different for each course. Direct students to Learning Corner resources on test prep or encourage students to attend an ASC workshop on test prep and the science of learning. Creating a brief assignment or extra credit opportunity where students reflect on and apply takeaways can help students tailor their test prep strategies to the course and content.

Deconstruct Assignment Expectations

Interpreting assignment expectations can be a source of stress for students. You can help by giving time during class or in online discussions for students to analyze an assignment, practice using a rubric, or plan how to approach tasks. This can also be a great time to let students know about resources available to help with their assignment. For example, a Writing Center virtual tour can make students aware of ways to get feedback at any stage of the writing process.

Scaffold Independence

With any of these techniques, you can scaffold to move relatively quickly to independent learning. For example, you could guide students through creating a study plan in advance of the first midterm, debrief the process post-midterm, then give students time to create their own study plan for the second midterm or final exam.

Embedding learning strategies early in the term can be a great way to encourage students’ use of strategies all term long. If you find yourself looking for tools and resources to support students in your course – reach out! Email me or Marjorie, and we’ll help you navigate  resources from the Academic Success Center and Writing Center.

Reflections on the Remote Learning Experience Survey

by Clare Creighton

Over the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to work with Maureen Cochran (Director of Student Affairs Assessment) and Erin Mulvey (Transfer Transitions Coordinator) among others, as we researched, designed, and launched a survey to understand students’ current experiences with remote learning.

Survey Design & Response Rate

We sent the Remote Learning Experience survey invitation to Corvallis and Cascade campus undergraduates on April 23rd. Having reviewed sample surveys (HEDS COVID-10 Institutional Response Student Survey and Educause DIY Survey kit), we developed a set of questions you can preview through this link. The survey was designed to be quick to encourage completion. We also wanted analysis to be manageable, as we have used responses to reach out to students who are struggling. By the survey’s close on April 29th, 2892 students on the Corvallis campus had answered at least 75% of the survey–an overall completion rate of 16.29%. This low response rate should be taken into consideration when interpreting findings.

Academic Themes from the Survey

For brevity, I want to share just a few things from my experience working with the data. Given the lens from which I work, you’re going to read a particularly academic focus.

I coded open-ended responses to the question: “What would improve your learning experience in your spring term courses?” The responses reflect what many university students are likely experiencing given the reality of a sudden adjustment to remote delivery. I’d like to highlight two themes and takeaways that I’ve found applicable to my work in and out of the classroom.

Themes & Takeaways

Theme #1: Students are experiencing an increase in assignments, lectures, videos, and readings and are feeling overwhelmed by the workload compared to previous terms. Some students feel that perhaps instructors think they have more time now when, in reality, their workload has increased dramatically and many factors make it harder to complete work.

Take-away: It’s worth revisiting my expectations (of myself, staff, student staff, and students) keeping in mind the backdrop of the pandemic. These are challenging and stressful circumstances. It is hard to stay focused and work efficiently, and screen fatigue has a tangible physical impact. Students shouldn’t need to name why they are stressed or apologize for feeling overwhelmed. At the ASC, each of our team leads is checking in with student staff—do they want more hours? Do they need fewer? In my own work, I’m asking, how can I demonstrate empathy and understanding in the current situation?

Theme #2: Students expressed a desire for course consistency and organization that would help them plan and create routine. A predictable rhythm, clear expectations for assignments, increased access to instructors, and coursework posted earlier were among the “asks.”

Take-away: Previously, I considered myself very organized (although don’t look at my desk). And yet, I am challenged by the shift to navigate all communication, information, and interactions through a single device. I can use what I know helps me stay organized to help students. For example, I can send updates once a week in the form of a digest. I can be generous with deadlines and offer structure and reminders to support their process. I can adapt communication to help students understand the focus of the message (what is different and important) and any actions needed (what they should do).

Conclusion

As we begin planning for summer and fall, we have a chance to plan service delivery with a bit more leisure and intentionality. Even a return to in-person delivery for fall will be different than in the past. This creates another new learning environment and transition for students. I hope to honor the voices and perspectives captured in this survey as we address future delivery of our services and coursework.

Knowing the findings from the survey can help the OSU community better support students, we have disseminated survey information through a few avenues. Survey information is for internal use only. A PDF on Box provides a high level summary of responses as well as coded themes from open-ended questions. Please contact Maureen Cochran for access.